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A Generation in Jeopardy? Linking Pesticides and Childhood Diseases

PHOTO: Chemicals in beakers
PHOTO: Chemicals in beakers
October 12, 2012

PHOENIX – The prevalence of childhood diseases and disorders is growing, and a new report says that's due in part to the extensive use of pesticides. Dr. David Wallinga with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy says the list includes learning disabilities, childhood cancer, asthma and autism.

"A lot of science keeps getting stronger and stronger, linking pretty serious health conditions with evidence that contributing to those conditions are our huge use of pesticides and the exposure of children, starting really in the womb and going forward."

There are some 20,000 pesticides in use today, and Wallinga says many were approved without considering their possible health effects on children.

While many may assume that pesticide drift is an issue only in Arizona's rural communities, Wallinga says residents in cities and suburbs are also affected.

"Pesticides are used in all sorts of different environments, not just in agriculture, but in households, on lawns. And then, a lot of these residues of pesticides either drift in the wind or get deposited by rainfall, so they can easily travel far from where they're applied."

Among those who've had a firsthand experience with the problem is Bonnie Wirtz, who says her family and home were enveloped by pesticide drift this past June.

"We had chloropyrifos drift on us and I had some adverse health effects - I actually almost died because of it. And this led me to kind of wonder what (effect) low-dose exposures would have on my son Jayden, because he was with us at the time."

The report makes several recommendations to deal with the issue, from supporting innovative farmers as they transition away from pesticide use - to establishing pesticide-free zones around places like schools and childcare centers. Arizona law restricts pesticide spraying within a quarter-mile of such places.

The report, from the Pesticide Action Network, is online at panna.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ